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May 6, 2021

Don't Panic (1988) Movie Review

I did not specifically seek out another bonkers kind of film. And while last week’s review centered on a movie that did crazy VERY well, this week’s choice is…uh…just read on to see what I’m talking about.

Don’t Panic is the story of Michael. He and his mom had to move from the US to Mexico City for his dad’s work. Sure, things are pretty different there but he’s doing well in school, has a crush in the works, and has a nice circle of friends. Mom’s struggling a little. Since dad is away all the time for work, the bottle seems to be her only comfort.

For Michael’s 17th birthday, his friends surprise him with a Ouija board and wouldn’t it be so much fun to play with it? Spoiler Alert: the answer is NO. Despite some promise to never play with one again, he folds to peer pressure. His best bud, Tony, summons Virgil. He tells everyone it’s just a ghost but Michael knows better – it’s the Devil!

Naturally, nothing happens while they’re playing with the board. But as soon as everyone leaves, without closing the supernatural door they just opened (do you want demons? BECAUSE THAT’S HOW YOU GET DEMONS), weird shit starts to happen.

The next day, Michael is late for school and in Mexico City, you can’t attend classes if you’re tardy. Too bad, so sad. Turns out, his crush, Alexandra, was also late so they spend a wonderful 1980’s montage day of feeding the ducks, going on a paddle boat, getting balloons, going to an amusement park, and everything two young people in love like to do.

Of course, Michael needs to consult with his best bro, Tony, to figure out how to tell Alex how much he likes her. Tony says the only thing he can do is give her the Magic Rose  As long as love exists between the two of them, the bloom will never wither. Daawww, that’s actually some sweet advice coming from such a fucktard.

Just as things seems to be going swell, Michael starts having nightmares. But they aren’t just simple nightmares. They’re visions, and they eventually transfer to the waking world. He’s seeing his friends being murdered, stabbed to death with some kind of ceremonial dagger. And to top it off, he sees his best gal getting a little too chummy with the school douchebag, John. But she assures him that John is just a smart ass, that’s why he acts that way. She loves only Michael.

Hooray for love!

I'm looking for the plot. Has anyone seen it?

Anyhoo…back to the movie. Not only is Michael having visions about his friends, some kind of weird face keeps pushing out of the static on the TV to say Michael can prevent the tragedies. Despite all his efforts, though, Michael can’t seem to stop any of the murders. It doesn’t help that his mom won’t listen to anything he says and is convinced he’s nuts, and gets the local psychiatrist to pump him full of drugs.

(SPOILERS AHOY) Michael finally finds out that the face in the TV is Tony! Virgil has possessed his body and is killing everyone. All Michael has to do is find that damned dagger and kill Virgil. With a little help from Douchebag John and Alexandra, and the one person in Mexico City that believes Michael is not crazy (a cop, of all people), Virgil is finally defeated and Tony is set free. Unfortunately, Michael dies from the strain of battle. Apparently being suspended in the air by telekinesis takes all the stuffing out of a healthy 17-year-old.

BUT FEAR NOT! At his graveside funeral, Alexandra throws a now wilted rose onto Michael’s casket and it instantly becomes full and beautiful again. She smiles to the heavens, knowing Michael still loves her even in death.

Wait, what?

I realized as I was trying to type up the summary, I could have kept describing the tons of minutia in the film because honestly, about eighty of the ninety minutes feels useless. “Kids summon a demon and it possesses one of their bodies to go on a killing spree.” That’s it. That’s the story. But all this other crap (the first love, Daddy’s constant absence, the visions, Michael’s dinosaur pajamas) does this film absolutely NO favors.

I’m not sure why Shudder described the writer/director, Rubén Galindo Jr., as the King of Mexican Gore because he’s got maybe 3-4 horror movies to his name. Granted, I haven’t seen those films so maybe they’re swimming in human offal. But there wasn’t that much gore going on here. Yeah, lots of blood and some stringy slime-spit from Tony at the end. However, a Herschell Gordon Lewis film this is not.

The acting is gods awful. It’s either completely over the top or non-existent. It doesn’t help that the ADR or overdubbing is terrible. But thankfully Michael narrates the opening of the film because who wants to actually show his backstory when he can just tell us, amirite? Throw in a lot of overly dramatic and cheesy music, and you’ve got yourself a movie.

Moooom, why do people treat me like a baby!?

While we do get some development of Michael, his mom, and the family dynamic, most of the characters are just there to die. I suppose Tony is given more than a shallow puddle’s worth of depth with the whole rose romantic advice, and I do feel bad for him once he’s possessed. But we never get more backstory on the whole ‘never play with a Ouija’ again which really could have made Tony’s character more interesting.

There were character actions that had me scratching my head. When Michael was having waking visions, he couldn’t actually see his surroundings – just the visions. So I’m not sure why he was running full-tilt boogie, and weaving side to side, down sets of stairs or through hospital corridors. He tripped and stumbled more than the slut victim from a Friday the 13th movie. But he could leap through a window, that could only be accessed if he stood on a couch next to it, with laser precision. When Michael gets another vision at Alex’s house, he pulls out the gun John gave him earlier (don’t worry about it) and starts blasting, shooting up everything in the room EVEN THOUGH HE CAN’T SEE. And why do people keep getting in John’s car through the windows instead of opening the doors? Does they think they’re in Hazard County, for cripes sake?

I just…

And while there are a lot more things I disliked about this movie, I can recognize some awesome, too. The special effects are all practical, which is my favorite. The blood looks great; the wounds have little noticeable latex edging; when John gets the dagger from under the chin to the roof of his mouth, you get to see the blade inside his mouth. Very cool effect. The makeup for Tony as he slowly ages and rots (didn’t realize possession did that, but okay) was fantastic. By the end, it doesn’t even look like makeup anymore but a part of the actor.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. There so much going on here that’s ridiculous, or idiotic, or just lacking direction. For an eighties completist, sure. Check it out if you have the time, especially if you need a good laugh. Otherwise, I’d say leave it in the past and move on with your life.

1 hatchet (out of 5)



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